I was thinking of calling this piece "the greatest HR non-issues of all
time", but I have set myself quite a task because there are so many to
choose from. By ‘non-issues’ I mean the sort of stories that hit the HR
headlines, generate heated debate, usually from particular interest groups, but
never seem to get resolved, despite often creating whole new industries in
Just to give you an idea about what I mean, take the classic non-issue scare
of the late 1980s, the "demographic timebomb". Fortunately, it never
actually went off, probably because it was defused by the intervening
Never mind, there are many others to take its place. How about stress
Plenty of symptoms about (and stress awareness courses), but no one seems to
have addressed the real causes (lack of clear leadership and poor management).
Don’t hold your breath waiting for a cure because this one is guaranteed to run
Maybe the work-life balance debate should make the top 10 because no one
agrees exactly what the problem is or how it actually applies to avowed
Is any business leader really interested in work-life balance when the very
behaviour that got them to the top is contrary to the whole concept of balance?
Despite this tough competition, none of these issues have managed to claim
the number-one slot. That is reserved for my all-time favourite non-issue,
which is ageism.
I have been sitting on the sidelines watching this one develop for some
considerable time now and, what with getting older all the time myself, thought
it would be a subject in which I had a growing, vested interest.
Alas, no. When it comes to non-issues, ageism has all the hallmarks of being
in a different league – and, no, I don’t mean the geriatric league.
First, there is no clear definition of what it is except that there seems to
be an implicit assumption that what we are really talking about is old-ageism.
It is genuinely "inclusive" (nice word) because anyone can claim
to be a victim at any age. Presumably, someone has evidence that organisations
do discriminate on the grounds of age, but without any figures to support this
view it is difficult to refute it.
Of course, it has also attracted a great deal of Government support (the old
are a growing percentage of voters) and it is certainly a non-issue of these
politically correct times in that all discrimination, quite rightly, is deemed
to be wrong.
No doubt if the old-ageist lobby succeeds (whatever that actually means)
then I will await the backlash from the newly-launched, young-ist lobby, with
the sort of interest such a fine cause will deserve.
By Paul Kearns
Senior partner, Personnel Works